Sunday, September 13, 2009

Memories in a Marble

I actually started and finished a 400+ page book recently, primarily because I had to for my upcoming book group, but this is not to take anything away from Margaret Atwood's very good book, Cat's Eye.  Female readers beware: you may experience unpleasant flashbacks to long suppressed memories of childhood cruelty (girl-to-girl) and the culture that allows this. I certainly had one, which helps me understand how the main character, Elaine, could  have repressed her very awful memories for so long.  Male readers can sit back, at least partially, in their seats and not feel too much heat, with the exception that they should please note the presence/absence of the fathers in this book. Having heard these forewarnings, you might not even want to start the book, but the first line will hook you and pull you into a superbly written novel exploring how time and memories fold into one another and how we salvage bits of ourselves from this continuum. There are many areas to explore in the book including the role of creativity (Elaine is a painter) vs. destruction, the symbolism of light, mirrors and eyes, and the clash of nature vs. conformity. Cat's Eye was mood-filled and thought- provoking.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Perfect Place To Disappear

Lake of the Woods, the 950,400 acre lake which straddles the border between Minnesota and Canada, is not a locale where you want to get lost, but it is THE perfect place in which to disappear. With over 14,000 islands and extensive forests, this remote area could easily swallow up a lost person. It is also a great place to stage one's disappearance if so desired. In addition, the massive lake affords a wonderful opportunity to dispose of a body without detection. What if someone suddenly vanished here? Who would know which possible scenario had really happened? That's the premise of Tim O'Brien's excellent book, In the Lake of the Woods.

The lake proves to be the ideal setting for O'Brien to examine the idea of inexplicable loss with all its myriad, painful angles. In this 1994 book the author creates a fascinating human drama centered on a troubled couple seeking solace and/or escape on a remote section of the lakefront. The husband is trying to blot out the disappointment and disgrace of his political downfall, and it is clear that he has become figuratively lost. His wife's story, on the other hand, is revealed mostly through her husband's reflections and the must-read footnotes. For early in the plot, it is the wife who becomes physically lost, vanishing suddenly in the night. From this point on, the story expands into both a mesmerizing mystery story and a somber reflection on self-knowledge. In fact, the idea of being lost to oneself becomes paramount as the story unfolds.

In true Tim O'Brien style, a traumatic episode from the Vietnam War plays a significant role as do the recalled experiences from the man's youth. There are a minimum of characters, but they are well drawn, and additional character input comes from the truly engrossing footnotes. While there are no comforting resolutions or easy answers, In the Lake of the Woods is a fabulous book right to the ending.